Bouldering, Hiking & Eating – Bishop, CA
It’s been a whirlwind of a week here in the little mountain town of Bishop, CA. For those who don’t know this place it’s actually the largest populated city in Inyo County and also a hub of sorts on 395. It sits at the crossroads of Hwy 395 and US 6 which was, interestingly enough, one of the original east-west interstate highways in the US. Geologically it falls between the gorgeous Sierra Nevada Mountains in the West, the stark White Mountains in the East and the historic Volcanic Tablelands in the North.
It’s an incredibly scenic spot, and we’ve been here many times before, but what makes it unique are the “extras”. Bishop is known as a climbers paradise, and the combo of hungry climbing crowds and steady influx of younger/hip types has morphed it into one of the top “foodie” destinations on 395. There are over 40 different restaurants in Bishop including a brewery, 3 bakeries, 3 coffee shops, 5 Mexican, a Thai, an Indian and no end of good old-fashioned American. We come to Bishop to hike, play and eeeeeeeeat and there’s no better place on 395 to do all three.
This time around, because of a forecasted cold snap (with snow, no less) we chose to forgo our usual boondocking spot and join our buddies Wandertopia at the Fairgrounds in town (review coming). This turned out to be an excellent plan not only for the hookups, which came in handy as temps plummeted, but because the Fairgrounds are walking distance to downtown and all the foodie delights thereof. Sweeeet!
Here’s what we got up to:
The little town of Bishop, believe it or not, is known as one of the top bouldering places in the world. There are more than 2000 “problems” (as the climbers call it) on two principal rock types located in the Bishop tuff of the Volcanic Tablelands just north of town and the quartz monzonite in Buttermilk Country SW of town. We visited the latter a few years ago, but we’d never been to the more famous location in the north. Known as “Happy Boulders” (not to be confused with “Sad Boulders” which are right next door, and obviously much less visited…poor things), this area has 409 “routes” and is located via a short uphill hike just north of town.
We dragged the Wandertopia boys along (together with the doggies, obviously) and spent several superb hours just playing around the rocks on a pleasant warm day. Paul and Todd both attacked the boulders like mountain goats, while Russ and I (much more sensibly I thought) looked on. We celebrated our first ascents with head-sized margaritas (see below) right after. A total blast even if you don’t climb!!
NOTE/ The Bouldering Areas in Bishop are all 100% dog friendly. For bouldering info click HERE and HERE.
Little Lakes Valley Hiking
When we first came to Bishop in 2012 I asked the local ranger for the absolute best hike in the area. Without a moments hesitation he said “Little Lakes Valley“. It was the hike to top all hikes, the one walk to rule them all.
We did it for the first time that fall and I have to admit the man was right. If you’ve ever wanted to hike at altitude (without too much elevation change) and see more lakes than you can ever imagine, this is your spot. The trail starts at a dizzying 10,300 feet (~3,140 m) and the first lake is barely over a mile in. From that point on its just pure hiking gravy with each turn more ridiculously beautiful than the last, each lake more stunning than the rest.
It’s the kind of the trail that just overwhelms your senses.
After checking conditions with the local ranger, we (once again) dragged the Wandertopia boys (+ dogs) along and boy-oh-boy was it worth it. Gorgeous running creeks, intense red-orange tundra, endless frozen lakes (with oh-so-many crystal formations) and perfectly-peaked mountains met our view at every step. We negotiated our way through steps of rock and patches of mud and ice, while the dogs went crazy running & playing in the snow. The area is so high that even the slightest breeze chills you to your bones, but the scenery, mountains and clouds are just so over-the-top that you barely notice the discomfort.
Bring lots of layers, take your time (remember this is high altitude hiking and you will feel it), but if you’re in the area don’t miss this!
NOTE/ This hike, as with all the mountain hikes around the Eastern Sierras is 100% dog friendly. For trail details click HERE.
Bishop Eating Extravaganza
As part of our experience here in Bishop we decided to re-capture calories burnt through hiking & bouldering with eating (wouldn’t want us to waste away now would we?). Given we were walking distance to town we were able to try a different spot almost everyday, something we’ve never accomplished in past visits. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but here are our top picks of the week:
The Bishop Burger Barn* – This is such a good hangout that we never, ever (ever) go through town without eating here at least once. The Burger Barn is a funky, kinda grunge spot that offers tasty burgers (both regular and gluten-free options) from locally sourced ingredients (local bison, grass-fed beef) with delectable milkshakes (OMG!) and super-tasty sweet potato fries. Load ’em up with sauteed mushrooms, onions, and blue cheese and oh-my what a thing! Even their veggie burgers are phenomenal. I can’t recommend this place enough! *Dog Friendly
- Mountain Rambler Brewery – We were stoked to discover that there’s a new Brewery in town. Mountain Rambler opened last year, but only just started serving beer in Jan. They currently have 4 items on tap (Wheat, Brown Ale, Black IPA and Porter). The Black IPA was by far our favorite (and worth coming back for) while the rest of the beers still need development, but what blew us away was the food. Awesome, fresh CA-style “foodie” cuisine with options such as chilled red pepper soup, creative burgers and tacos. We loved it!
- Tacqueria Las Palmas – We tried two Mexican spots in town, Taqueria Las Palmas and El Ranchito and the first won hands down. Their chips were warm, the salsa home-made and the Cadillac Margarita kept us buzzing for hours after (whoah Nelly, what a punch!). Food was good, albeit a bit of a mix. I loved my pork chili verde while Paul was so-so with his tostada and the boys thought their chili rellenos and enchiladas were in-between, but the “extras” made it a total score. We’d come back even if just for the margaritas and chips.
- Great Basin Bakery – Everyone talks about Schat’s Bakkery in Bishop and if you’re in town you certainly should stop by, but our personal preference was actually this lesser-known tiny little bakery south of town. The cookies here were awesome, and I was especially happy to find a gluten-free option. Their soups are apparently pretty darn amazing too, but we didn’t get a chance to try them.
- Black Sheep Coffee* – There are actually several really decent coffee shops in Bishop that offer super-cute places to sit as well as free WiFi and excellent coffee. Looney Bean is a viable choice, but our preference is definitely Black Sheep. Fresh-roasted coffee with creamy and not-to-sweet Mocha’s giving you that extra-special buzz you’re looking for. They even have a few beers on tap, kinda weird but it kinda works. We went daily! *Dog Friendly
- Sage Restaurant – Looking for fine dining in Bishop? Well then this is your spot. I can’t say it compares to fine dining in, say, San Francisco or New York, but for 395 this is pretty darn fancy. The roasted jalapeno potato soup was super tasty, the pistachio-encrusted salmon flavorful and moist and we accompanied the whole thing with a bottle of champagne (what else?). You’ll pay extra $$ here, but it’s a fun experience.
*NOTE/ The Bishop Burger Barn and Black Sheep Coffee both offer lovely outdoor eating areas that are dog-friendly. The other restaurants sadly do not.
There are lots of other eating options in town including Thai Food (at the airport), Smoked Meats and even Indian (really!), and there are also PLENTY of other things to do around here (see “related posts” below), but this was all we could manage this time around. That about wraps up our week here in town. We’ve got another major wind-storm and cold-snap coming through the mountains so we’re going to hang tight for a few days and then see where the weather is before we move on. See ya at the next spot!
- The Oldest Living Things On Earth – Ancient Bristlecone Forest, CA
- Land Of A Thousand Alpine Lakes – John Muir Wilderness, CA
- Boondocking & Bumming In Bishop, CA
- $2 Gourmet Meals, Railroads & Some Apples – Bishop, CA
- Bishop CA Round-Up…And A Few More Thoughts On The “Dark Side”
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
Box Canyon Mark from Lovely Ouray, Colorado says
Your “Come enter my Wilderness” shot made my day… even more than the food and brew “porn.” Ansel Adams would be proud.
Box Canyon Mark
Why thank you! Fine praise indeed 🙂
Jim at Growing Faith says
I really like the sun halo photo! I definitely want to try the gluten free Ryan Goods burger at The Burger Barn. Little Lakes Valley sounds like a great place to go hiking. I can’t wait to get out west! Thanks for sharing this with us.
If you love the mountains you are going to go ga-ga here. Fewer places I love more than the Eastern Sierra’s when it comes to hiking & exploring.
Your blog post couldn’t be more right on, we haven’t tried Burger Barn or the new brewery yet, looking forward to it. Black Sheep, Great Basin Bakery (we had our wedding cookies made there as we were married in the Alabama Hills) and Little Lakes Valley are all stellar places to be. Enjoy your posts, hope to be out there doing the same in a Navion or Via in the next five years. Thanks for keeping us posted. I’ve learned of quite a few new places thanks to you, we really appreciate it.
Paige and Fred
Married in the Alabama Hills -> what a gorgeous setting!!! It must have been quite amazing. Glad I could give ya some new tips for the area.
Love this area. Little lakes valley one of my favorite hikes
It’s a special place indeed.
Oh goodness.. I think Bishop was one of our favorite stops we made with you guys last fall, and I’d love to go back and spend more time there. What memories this post is bringing back. Sounds like the four of ya are having a fantastic time.. and miss you all!
Can’t help but think of you guys while we’re here too. We took a trip to the Tablelands yesterday and I could picture our rigs up there as if it were yesterday. Good times!
You KNOW how much we love Bishop, how much we miss Bishop, almost to the point of homesickness for Bishop.
The picture of Paul at Black Sheep is probably my all time favorite picture of him…..
Thank you for taking us back.
Yup I remember you guys loved it here. I have to admit the more time I spend in this town, the more it grows on me. It’s been a real treat to be walking distance from downtown this time around. It’s given us a more intimate experience than we’ve ever had before. Such a bonus!
What a lovely visual and written portrait of Bishop and all that is nearby. Your photos are beautiful. I love this place and to be able to share it with such great company has been a highlight of our journey so far! Thanks for helping us deplete Frances’s little battery with all the hiking!
That little doggie is an energizer bunny. I’m amazed at how well she hikes. Plus with all her running around she probably hikes twice our distance every time we’re out. Such a trooper…and a darn cute one too!
Metamorphosis Lisa says
In TX we noticed several coffee shops that served beer too. Maybe it’s becoming a new “thing”?
Lots of things in your post I know we’ll want to do next time we’re through the area, thanks!
Seems like a definite thing in the works. How interesting!
Oh man we wanted to hit this town so bad last year and ran out of time. Now I really want to go! What I wouldn’t give for some of those views right now as I am currently stuck in a parking lot in Indiana. Oh well, virtual views are better than nothing, so thanks for sharing!
You guys would totally love it here, I’ve no doubt. Soon enough you’ll be exchanging those parking lot views for some sweet Alaska vistas. I’m looking forward to following your trip up there on your blog and Instagram.
Bob Wells says
What a wonderful post!! I felt like I was there with you!
I’m not the least bit a foodie and don’t like beer, but you almost have converted me!
Of you ever said I would follow and love the blog of someone in a huge Class A, I’d have said “You’re nuts!” But, you’re amazing and I love your blog!
So happy to have you along for the ride, Bob and thank you for your kind words. I’m such a huge fan of your van blog too. One day we’ll definitely meet up!
Just a word from an experienced older flatlander… give yourself a chance to get acclimated a day or two at 6000 ft elevation before jumping up to a 10,000 ft hike up in Little Lakes Valley… Altitude sickness is something every hiker should take seriously, in terms of getting a bit acclimated to the elevation change if you are a flatlander coming from Southern California. If you feel nauseous, tired or dizzy, or sick to your stomach, take 2 aspirin, drink lots of water, as well as lots of electrolyte like Gatorade and get off the mountain and lower in elevation quickly.
Alcohol and caffiene are other trouble makers while getting acclimated to higher elevations, so forgo them for a couple of days.
All good tips. Acclimatization is very important on these high altitude hikes.
And you probably have already checked it out, but if in the Mammoth Lakes area, The Stove gets my vote for best breakfast, and for Mexican food in town, Roberto’s is legendary.
I don’t actually think we’ve been to either! Cheers for the ideas!
What a great review of one of my favorite towns! I’ve been there dozens of times, camped nearby and love that there are new places I’ve never tried (Sage, Burger Barn, etc). I can’t wait for my next trip. Thanks again Nina!
Glad I could give ya some new ideas! We keep discovering new stuff every time we come too.
Well you got me twice this time!
“Come enter my Wilderness” is awesome.
The sidewalk sign outside the Looney Bean Coffee shop is classic!
Love them both, but all of the other pics are wonderful too.
You mentioned a few brews being served at a coffee shop. It’s actually not that uncommon around here. There seems to be a growing number of coffee shops that develop a small food menu. Which grows, and becomes meals. Which then grows to have a (usually) small menu for micro brew beers and wines. It makes them more fun, any time of day. Or night. 🙂
I have to admit that even though I thought the whole brew-in-a-coffee-shop thing was initially weird, it kinda worked. Come in the AM and have a coffee, or come in the PM for a brew. It’s nice to have both options in one place.
Little Lakes Valley is one of my very favorite hikes, but I’ve never done it in the spring. I’m surprised it was open.
Honestly it’s waaaay too early for it to be open. The snow pack is far too light this year and many of the trails that should be closed are already clear. It’s great for hiking, but really bad for the area. They need many more big storms, and even then it won’t recover.
Best cheap mexican I have ever had was in Bishop. I miss that town. We boondocked with the Watsons and just missed you guys. Wish were there with you. Its like a dripping rain forest here. Crazy dense and beautiful in its own way.
Yeah I think we missed each other by a few days at each stop on that trip. Hopefully we’ll catch up again soon.
Jim and Gayle says
Oh, a new brewery in Bishop! Yet another reason to return.
We did the Little Lakes Valley hike twice in our one visit to Bishop. Such a gorgeous place!
The beer still has a ways to go at the brewery here (especially compared to all that amazing beer we tasted in San Diego), but I love that they’ve made the start. Plus the food was awesome. Good stuff!
I am laughing out loud at the Looney Bean sign…”and like, 2 people” LOL!! Such a gorgeous place. I can’t wait to explore it further one day…
Yeah, that sign cracked me up too. Good one for a coffee shop.
Oh yay — more great tips for 395! It’s been quite a few years since we’ve been in Bishop and it looks like there are some fine new attractions on the food scene. And that beautiful Little Lakes Valley hike is calling to me — although I have to say I’m kinda hoping it will be a bit warmer in a couple of weeks. Brrr — not really ready to go from 80 degrees in San Diego to freezing!
Although we’ve had a few cold snaps, the weather has been mostly warm and sunny. Today we hit 80! We’re going to have another cold snap next 3 days, but then it’s going to warm up again to around mid-70’s here in Bishop (colder up the mountain of course). So, I’m thinking you’ll be fine.
Mostly it’s been intermittent wind storms that have stalled us, which is pretty typical here in the mountains for spring. As long as you’re flexible and able to wait them out, you’ll enjoy the area.
Also you’ll be happy to know we’ve not seen any skeeters since Lone Pine 🙂
Oh good, thanks so much for the update!
I totally agree with going to Schat’s Bakery. We hit the place up every time we go to Mammoth, to stock up on our bread and pastry supplies. We also eat at Jack’s Restaurant. Unfortunately, it has only inside dining, but great food.
Haven’t actually tried Jacks…I’m going to look it up. Cheers!
another super entry about Bishop and surroundings!! Aaah … that Little Lakes Valley must have been sublime with the frozen lakes. Have spent many a night up there watching the world wake up to the night!! Are you staying up there much longer? Pretty soon the the town will be changed by opening day … fishing!!!
We’re moving on soon. Need to be up in Portland, OR by mid-May so we’ve only got a month left now. I’ll be sad to leave this area, as I always am, but I know we’ll always come back.
Love the last shot Nina!
Jennifer Nealy says
Deas and I still talk about the great Mexican food we had in Bishop…although I’m pretty sure it was at El Ranchito, because I know they didn’t serve margaritas. Well they did, but with wine and not tequila, so we didn’t try it. We thought the food there was amazing! We only had a night or two there but definitely want to return!
I have to admit we weren’t as enamored with El Ranchito as we were with Taqueria Las Palmas, but either way you can’t go wrong. So many good meals here in Bishop.
Pam Wright says
You are killing me!! I can’t believe we still haven’t made this drive. We just must get there to see all this magnificence! Nina, You really out did yourself with the photos in this post. Just beautiful. You certainly captured the beauty. I agree with Mark on that final photo:) Thanks so much for including so much info for us. Hiking, rock scrambling, beautiful scenery, and good food and brew, this is calling our name, for sure!!!
You would love the hiking here Pam…just love it!
Jodee Gravel says
How generous of you to stay at the fairgrounds to check it out for us! We will be there around June 5 as we head north for the summer. Mark made the Ansel Adams reference that I immediately thought of :-)- that is a gallery-worthy shot. Looking forward to checking out these yummy eateries, especially the two dog-friendly stops!
The fairgrounds are great. Such a neat find IMHO. I should have the review up in the next few days.
Gorgeous photos. Thanks for continuing to elaborate on the 395 route. We hope to travel that way one day and we’ll surely re-visit your blog when the time comes.
It’s a fine drive. I do hope you get to experience it one day.
Another stop to put on the list. Hope I get a chance to explore that area some fall or spring.
I hope you do too. This is one of the my favorite places in the world.
Shirlene (Huntington Beach, Ca) says
You are killing me, where is my fishing pole? We will be there the last weekend in May, can’t wait.
Soon….very soon!! Fishing should be good.
I have taken note of everything Nina as we will head that way in just a couple of weeks (cannot wait). Thanks for the great post, chock-full of great info, and of course, your fabulous photos. 🙂
Michael & Imkelina says
We also love the Bishop area…and reading your wonderful post reminded us just how special that waypoint is. When we want to describe the Sierras without words to friends or family, we always have them join us on the Little Lakes Valley hike…always leaves a brand on their soul. Planning a long trip to the Pacific Northwest…no doubt the jewels of Hwy 395 will ensure a long detour.
Yeah that Little Lakes Hike is a special gem. I think we’ve done it 3 or 4 times now and it never gets old.
You guys are having so much fun!!! 🙂
Karen @ Sock Monkey Trekkers from NM says
Love the sun bow! We’ve eaten at the bakery. Yummers! 395 is always one of our favorite drives.
This is our first time hitting that little bakery. A neat discovery!
George Mellon says
Not sure about Burger Barn. It’s on reservation land. Is it subject to health department inspections and how do you know their meat is grass fed? And local Bison…where do they graze em? I live here and have never seen them.
Well, they specifically list grass-fed beef for their burgers (it’s an option you can choose on the menu). I believe they source it from Montgomery Creek Ranch, which also services Manor Market (the local market in Bishop).
Oh and I believe the Bison is from White Mountain Ranch. The same bison is occasionally offered by Abundant Harvest Organics in Bishop (which I believe is a local CSA?). It’s the one next to Black Sheep. Here’s the CSA FB link: https://www.facebook.com/AbundantHarvestBishop
The Mexican in Bishop that serves wine margaritas is Astorga’s, and is by far the best in town in my opinion.
For Mammoth also try the Starlight Cafe, if you happen to find it open.
Aha!! Ok that’s one of the ones we didn’t try. On the list for next time!
Marcia GB in MA says
Thanks for the extensive reviews of food, drink and attractions in the Bishop area. We are putting it on “The List”.
Koos and Stefan says
Great post! We love the area as well. Too bad I did not read this post earlier. We were in the Bishop/Mammoth area on April 9 and 10, on our way from Death Valley to the Bay Area. The thought of being so close and not meeting up is killing me now. But I guess that is what you get when you are behind on reading your blogs… 🙂
Have you been to Stellar Brew in Mammoth Lakes? It is a coffee / tea / breakfast / lunch place and I love it because they have so many great tasting vegetarian and vegan options. And of course some gluten free as well. Great atmosphere, free wifi and an interesting mixed crowd.
Love your blog and hope to meet up on one of our upcoming trips!
I have NOT actually tried Stellar Brew! I will add it to the list for next time! Sorry we missed each other.
Ed Hackenbruch says
Got here yesterday, went for a drive up into the mountains and on the way out of town saw a lot of cars lined up at a little burger joint and decided to give them a try for dinner on our way back. Great!!!! Then i just saw this morning on your post about this place….:)
So GLAD you stopped for a burger there! And very happy you liked it too. We just love that place.
I love stunning rock foaotrimns in California. So many I can’t choose which one’s the best. This is something that I need to go to when I go back to Fremont. High Five, Fremont. I just went to Black’s Beach aka Nude Beach and I was also in for surprise. And speaking of leash-free beache, you can never go wrong with Ocean Beach aka Dog Beach.